University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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“Beating the Odds” even through COVID

In The View from the OEP on December 1, 2021 at 11:40 am

Today we share our final OEP awards for 2021, and discuss how (and why) our awards are different from the rewards given by the state.

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2021!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are demonstrating high academic growth despite serving a population where at least 66% of the students participate in the Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, which is based on low household income.  Schools serving such student populations often struggle to obtain high academic achievement, but schools with high growth scores are helping students reach grade level goals.

Academic growth is less correlated with school poverty rates than achievement and we think it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students. Growth is calculated at the student level, and essentially reflects how much a student has improved his or her score from the prior year compared to what was predicted based on prior achievement history. In the case of 2021 awards, student growth is calculated from the 2019 assessments. Especially this year, with the widespread decline in student achievement scores, growth helps us identify schools where students were learning more than expected, even through COVID. While poverty can negatively impact student success, the schools awarded today demonstrate that their students are “Beating the Odds”  The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.

The OEP Awards highlight schools in Arkansas based on student growth on the ACT Aspire exams in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). We choose to give OEP Awards based on student growth because we think it is the best indicator of how the school is impacting students’ learning.

Although school-level growth scores are much less related to the percentage of students at a school who are participating in Free/Reduced Lunch than achievement scores, a negative correlation does exist (-0.39).  This means that students at schools serving higher poverty populations are more likely than their peers at more affluent schools to demonstrate less academic growth than predicted. As can be seen in the scatter plot below, schools with higher FRL rates are more likely to receive lower growth scores.

Figure 1. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

If we limit the plot to only those schools with at least 66% of students participating in FRL, as presented in Figure 2, the relationship between poverty and growth decreases. Although all of these schools are serving high poverty populations, there is wide variation in the amount of academic growth that students at the schools are demonstrating.

Figure 2. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, High-Poverty Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

We celebrate the state using this student-level growth model, and are pleased to be able to highlight how students are growing academically in schools across the state.  We hope that drawing attention to this growth information will spark discussions among stakeholders about the ways to ensure that all schools are growing the knowledge of Arkansas’ students.


“Beating the Odds” Elementary Level Schools

The top “Beating the Odds” elementary school overall is Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 67% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Weiner Elementary students demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire out of all schools. Many of these top 10 Beating the Odds schools were also among the high growth elementary schools in the state, regardless of student demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (67% FRL)++
  2. George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)++
  3. John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)+++
  4. Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)++
  5. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)++++
  6. Wickes Elementary, Cossatot River SD (81% FRL)
  7. King Elementary, Van Buren SD (77% FRL)
  8. Linda Childers Knapp Elementary, Springdale SD (90% FRL)
  9. Salem Elementary, Salem SD (69% FRL)+++
  10. Harp Elementary, Springdale SD (77% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Helen Tyson Middle from Springdale School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Helen Tyson Middle serves a 6th-7th grade student population where 81% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 35% are English Learners. Helen Tyson Middle was eighth among the high growth middle schools in the state, regardless of student demographics.  The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)+++
  2. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (71% FRL)++
  3. Cave City Middle, Cave City SD (78% FRL)
  4. Jessieville Middle, Jessieville SD (71% FRL)
  5. Decatur Middle, Decatur SD (81% FRL)
  6. Butterfield Trail Middle, Van Buren SD (68% FRL)++
  7. Nemo Vista Middle, Nemo Vista SD (71% FRL)
  8. Clarksville Middle, Clarksville SD (76% FRL)
  9. Atkins Middle, Atkins SD (68% FRL)++
  10. Star City Middle, Star City SD (72% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO middle schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” High Schools

The top high school beating the odds is Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg run by the Division of Youth Services School System. Despite serving a student population that is 100% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and working to educate students in the juvenile justice system, it is also OEP’s top high growth high school in the state.  Arkansas Consolidated High School students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities and traditional school settings. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  2. Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)+++
  3. Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  4. Arkansas Consolidated High- Dermott, DYS (100% FRL)
  5. Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  6. Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)++
  7. Decatur High, Decatur SD (71% FRL)++
  8. Oark High, Jasper SD (89% FRL)
  9. Highland High, Highland SD (71% FRL)
  10. KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High, KIPP Delta Public Schools (86% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO high schools by subject and region in the full report.

Congratulations to all the OEP “Beating the Odds” award winners!  Keep up the great work and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!


How are OEP awards different from the state rewards that were announced in November?

1) Part of the state rewards go to high-achieving schools, where a lot of students scored well on the state tests. These schools tend to serve a lower population of students facing academic risk factors poverty or second language acquisition.

  • OEP only awards schools for growth, because we think that it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students.

2) The part of the state rewards that are awarded for growth use a different measure than the OEP awards.  The rewards program uses the growth value that also includes the progress being made in English language proficiency, a value called the combined value-added growth score. The difference between the values is inconsistent, with the content growth value higher for some schools and the combined value-added value higher for other schools.

  • OEP awards are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

3) The state rewards program for growth includes graduation rate for high schools.

  • OEP awards do not include graduation rate, and are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. We agree that graduation is important, but we don’t want to conflate student academic growth with obtaining high school credits.

4) The state rewards program rewards the top 10% of schools overall.

  • OEP awards are grouped by ESSA school level (Elementary, Middle, and High). We know that achievement and growth vary by school level and are concerned that middle schools demonstrating relatively high growth are not being rewarded by the state. In fact, in 2021, no middle schools were recognized in the top 5% growth/grad awards by the state.  See a further discussion here.

The differences between the state rewards program and OEP awards are due to the fact that the state rewards are legislatively mandated, while here at OEP, we created an awards system that supports our passion for highlighting schools where students demonstrate Outstanding Educational Progress!  Oh, and we don’t send money- just paper certificates!

OEP Awards for High Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 17, 2021 at 11:00 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize High Schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth High schools are based on the growth of students in schools categorized as High Schools on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: High School Level

The top high school for overall student growth is Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg from the Division Of Youth Services School System, with an overall growth score of 86.65. Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg also had the highest growth in ELA at 89.09. Arkansas Consolidated High in Dermott took the top spot for growth in math at 93.62.


The 20 high schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Bentonville, Haas Hall Academy (2% FRL)***
  • Marmaduke High, Marmaduke SD (44% FRL)*
  • Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)***
  • Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)*
  • Haas Hall Academy at the Lane, Haas Hall Academy (9% FRL)**
  • Arkansas Consolidated High in Demott, DYS (100% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Jones Center, Haas Hall Academy (12% FRL)
  • Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy High, Responsive Ed. Solutions (5% FRL)*
  • Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  • Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  • Bradley High, Emerson-Taylor-Bradley SD (44% FRL)
  • Dardanelle High, Dardanelle SD (64% FRL)
  • Greenwood Freshman Center, Greenwood SD (32% FRL)*
  • Arkansas School for the Blind HS, Arkansas School for the Blind (39% FRL)
  • Malvern High, Malvern SD (64% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Academy, Haas Hall Academy (6% FRL)***
  • Quitman High, Quitman SD (49% FRL)*
  • eStem High, eStem Public Charter School (45% FRL)*
  • Concord High, Concord SD (64% FRL)*

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years.

Four of these top 20 schools have been on our list every year since 2017, and eleven have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how five of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

It is important to note that very few students were assessed in some of the Top 20 schools, so the growth score is reflective of the performance of just a few students. In prior years, we limited our awards to those with at least 20 students, but this year we felt that it was important to recognize the achievement of these very small schools! Especially since, as shown in Figure 1, there is essentially no correlation between the number of students assessed and growth values (R= 0.5).

Figure 1: 2021 Math Growth Score and Number of Students Assessed

Four of these top 20 schools have been on our list every year since 2017, and eleven have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how five of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go! Similar to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating enrollment of students from lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 2% to a high of 100%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, high school academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R= -0.3).

Figure 2: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, High School Level Schools

You can find the high schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all middle level schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

OEP Awards for Middle Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 10, 2021 at 6:00 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize Middle Level schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth Middle schools are based on the growth of middle or junior high school students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: Middle Level

The top middle school for overall student growth is Gravette Middle School from Gravette School District, with an overall growth score of 85.8. Washington Junior High from Bentonville School District took the top spot for growth in math at 89.36 and Decatur Middle School from Decatur School District had the highest growth score in ELA at 86.8.


The 20 middle/junior high schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Gravette Middle, Gravette SD (53% FRL)**
  • Washington Junior High, Bentonville SD (18% FRL)*
  • Vilonia Middle, Vilonia SD (30% FRL)
  • Lincoln Junior High, Bentonville SD (24% FRL)***
  • Hellstern Middle, Springdale SD (49% FRL)*
  • Bright Field Middle, Bentonville SD (7% FRL)
  • LISA Academy Springdale, LISA Academy (59% FRL)
  • Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)**
  • Northridge Middle, Van Buren SD (43% FRL)*
  • Pinkston Middle, Mountain Home SD (43% FRL)*
  • Valley Springs Middle, Valley Springs SD (45% FRL)**
  • Huntsville Middle, Huntsville SD (52% FRL)
  • Swifton Middle, Jackson County SD (71% FRL)**
  • DeWitt Middle, DeWitt SD (56% FRL)
  • Gary E. Cobb Middle, Genoa Central SD (44% FRL)
  • J. William Fulbright Junior High, Bentonville SD (14% FRL)**
  • Beebe Junior High, Beebe SD (57% FRL)**
  • Ardis Ann Middle, Bentonville SD (22% FRL)
  • Heber Springs Middle, Heber Springs SD (50% FRL)***
  • Siloam Springs Intermediate, Siloam Springs SD (42% FRL)

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years. Three of these top 20 schools have been on or list every year since 2017, and thirteen have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how six of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go! Similar to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 7% to a high of 81%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R=0.4).

Figure 1: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, Middle Level Schools

You can find the middle/junior high schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all middle level schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will share the winners for High Growth High Schools. Finally we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

OEP Awards for Elementary Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 3, 2021 at 10:38 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize elementary schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth Elementary schools are based on the growth of elementary students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: Elementary Level

The top elementary school for overall student growth is Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District, with an overall growth score of 91.85. Weiner Elementary also took the top spot for growth in math at 95.27. George Elementary from Springdale School District had the highest growth score in ELA at 90.82.


The 20 elementary schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (68% FRL)**
  • Parkview Elementary, Van Buren SD (53% FRL)
  • Pottsville Elementary, Pottsville SD (50% FRL)***
  • Hunt Elementary, Springdale SD (52% FRL)***
  • George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)
  • Genoa Central Elementary, Genoa Central SD (39% FRL)*
  • Eastside Elementary, Rogers SD (65% FRL)
  • Stagecoach Elementary, Cabot SD (38% FRL)*
  • Willowbrook Elementary, Bentonville SD (5% FRL)*
  • Vandergriff Elementary, Fayetteville SD (10% FRL)
  • John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)**
  • Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)*
  • Carolyn Lewis Elementary, Conway SD (50% FRL)*
  • Elgin B Milton Primary, Ozark (63% FRL)
  • Cavanaugh Elementary, Fort Smith (65% FRL)**
  • Greenbrier Wooster Elementary, Greenbrier SD (41% FRL)***
  • East Pointe Elementary, Greenwood SD (44% FRL)
  • Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)
  • Sequoya Elementary, Russellville SD (39% FRL)*
  • Woodrow Cummins Elementary, Conway SD (36% FRL)

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years. Three of these top 20 schools have been on or list every year since 2017, and thirteen have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how six of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

Similarly to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 5% to a high of 88%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R=-0.46).

Figure 1: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, Elementary Schools

You can find the elementary schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all elementary schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will share the winners for High Growth Middle Level schools, followed by High Growth High Schools. Finally we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

Examining Student Academic Growth

In The View from the OEP on October 27, 2021 at 11:48 am

Last week we highlighted twelve schools that were ‘super growers‘ – schools where students demonstrated consistently high growth in student achievement since 2015-16 – but how do you think students’ academic growth relates to a schools’ overall score? The overall ESSA score is combination of student achievement, student academic growth, school quality measures, and (for high schools) graduation rate. How do you think students’ academic growth relates to a schools’ overall ESSA score? You may remember that for elementary and middle schools, growth is weighted as 50% of the ESSA score, and for high schools it is weighted at 35%. It would seem logical that elementary and middle schools with the highest growth would also have the highest overall ESSA score- but this is not always true!

There are 6 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, and 14 high schools that are in the top 1/3 of the state for student academic growth, but in the bottom 1/3 for the overall ESSA score. And guess what they all have in common? A high percentage of low-income students. Students in these schools are showing high academic growth, but it isn’t enough to outweigh the influence of student achievement in the ESSA calculations.

Schools in the top 1/3 of student growth and bottom 1/3 for overall score

You can find these schools for yourself! Just go to our new data visualization and use the sliders to select 66th percentile or greater for Value Added Growth and 33rd percentile or lower for ESSA Index. Each dot represents a school, and the color-coding of the dots is based on growth: green indicates schools with higher than average student growth, while red indicates schools with lower than average growth. You can hover over the dots to see the school information, including the percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, value added growth percentile, weighted achievement percentile, school quality score percentile, and graduation rate if the school is a high school.

The viz allows you to easily answer questions about how schools are serving students across the state.

Here are some questions you might want to explore with the viz:

  • How are schools similar to yours growing student learning?
    1. Select your school from the list, and note your %Free/Reduced Lunch.
    2. Clear the selection for your school, and move the %Free/Reduced Lunch slider to 5 percent higher and lower than your schools’ percentage. For example, if you have 65% of students eligible for FRL, you would move the left slider to 60 and the right slider to 70.
    3. The color-coding of the dots is based on student growth: Green= higher than average growth while red=lower than average growth.
    4. If you want to just see a certain school level (Elementary, Middle, or High School), just select that school type using the grade level group filter.
  • How are schools in neighboring districts growing student learning?
    1. Select your district and neighboring district from the district list. You can select as many as you want to!
    2. The color-coding of the dots is based on student growth: Green= higher than average growth while red=lower than average growth.
    3. If you want to just see a certain school level (Elementary, Middle, or High School), just select that type using the grade level group filter.
  • Which high poverty schools are showing high academic growth?
    1. Use the %Free/Reduced Lunch slider to limit the viz to schools with greater than 75% FRL
    2. Use the Value Added Growth slider to limit the viz to schools with greater than 75% growth.
    3. If you want to just see a certain school level (Elementary, Middle, or High School), just select that type using the grade level group filter.
  • What is the relationship between student growth and school quality scores?
    1. Use the SQSS slider to limit the viz to schools with greater than average school quality (50).
    2. Check out the color of the dots- More green dots means that schools with higher school quality scores are generally demonstrating above average growth, while more red dots indicates that schools with higher school quality scores are generally demonstrating below average student growth. If the dots are a mixture of green and red, we can infer that there is little relationship between student growth and high school quality scores.
    3. Remember that if you want to just see a certain school level (Elementary, Middle, or High School), just select that type using the grade level group filter.

We hope that you find the information as interesting as we do! Leave us a comment to let us know what you think or any questions that you have.

Stay tuned- it is awards season here at OEP! Next week we award our Outstanding Educational Performance awards for high growth elementary schools!

These Schools are ‘Super Growers’!

In The View from the OEP on October 20, 2021 at 11:48 am

Last Friday, the Arkansas Department of Education released one of the most important pieces of data related to student learning: the value-added growth scores for schools.

The value-added growth scores are, in our opinion, the best evidence of how well a school is educating its students.  These scores measure how well a student performed based on how well they were expected to perform given their prior achievement on the ACT Aspire. You can check out the growth scores for your community on our database.

We love value-added growth because unlike achievement, growth scores are relatively uncorrelated with student demographic characteristics like gender, race/ethnicity, or, perhaps most importantly, poverty (as you can see in the figure below).

The especially great thing about the Value-Added growth score THIS year, is that it is immune to the statewide academic declines in student achievement from pre-COVID testing.  This is because students are compared to the typical statewide growth of students with similar prior academic achievement. In this case, even though most all students declined in achievement, average growth is still assigned 80 points, even if it was a decline from prior year performance.  So if students declined, but not as much as other similar students, the school is rewarded with a high growth score for that student.  This helps us because we can compare growth scores across time to determine which school are making significant progress in student learning.

The student-level growth scores are averaged at the school level, with a statewide average of 80. About half of the schools in the state showed above average student growth (not surprising, given that it is based on average growth for the state- that’s how math works….).

Value-added scores range from 60 to 90 with a standard deviation of 3.4, which makes it cumbersome to correctly interpret the magnitude of the differences between schools. A school value added score of 80 is average, while a score of 85.5 is in the top 10% in the state for Elementary schools even though it seems like just a few points higher. To make it easier to interpret differences in growth between schools, we assign statewide percentile ranks for growth on our database.

We are proponents of stakeholders using growth to examine how well students are learning. Here at OEP, we were interested in schools that have been in the top 10% of growth for multiple years because we recognize that persistent high academic growth is an indicator of a highly effective school.

There are twelve ‘super growers’: schools that have been on the top 10% of growth scores for their school types (Elementary, Middle, High) for the past five years. There were 7 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 4 high schools (about 1% of all schools).

Schools in the Top 10th Percentile of Growth since 2015-16

These ‘super growers’ are a diverse group of schools! In terms of the percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, they range from 5% to 90%. The race/ethnicity of their student populations range from 4% to 89% non-white, up to 12% are English learners, and up to 15% receive special education services. Between 2 and 14% of students are identified as Gifted and Talented. Average teacher experience ranges from less than 2 to more than 15 years, and the student: teacher ratio ranges from 5 to 16 students per teacher. Average teacher salary ranges from $42,724 to $61,864. The majority of these ‘super growers’ are in northwest Arkansas, and represent 1% of all traditional public schools and 7% of all public charter schools in the state.

We also checked out the academic growth of students in specific populations for these schools and were delighted to find that for 2020-21, these schools had above-average growth for all groups in 98% of the cases where the subgroup included at least 10 students.

2020-21 Subgroup Growth for ‘Super Grower’ Schools *=<10 students

Why are these schools more likely to demonstrate fantastic student academic growth every year? Unfortunately, there likely isn’t a magic bullet. Haas Hall teachers are doing something for the students that is likely very different from what Linda Childers Knapp teachers are doing, but they are both helping their students grow academically. Likely it is a combination of things. We should be researching these ‘super growth’ schools, understand what makes them unique, and leads to these outcomes.

Even though they serve very different populations, these ‘super growers’ show all kids can grow! Check out how the students in your community are growing academically on our database.

Taking a long(er) look at proficiency change

In The View from the OEP on October 6, 2021 at 9:48 am

In anticipation of the release of growth scores later this month, we have been taking a look at the trends in 2-year changes in proficiency on the ACT Aspire assessments. We are looking at 2-year cohorts because the assessment wasn’t administered in 2020. We wanted to examine how 2-year proficiency changed historically, and how the 2019 to 2021 assessment data compares to the historical trends. For example, 3rd graders tested in 2016 were tested in 2018 when they were 5th graders, 3rd graders tested in 2017 were tested in 2019 when they were 5th graders, and (this is the important bit) 3rd graders tested in 2019 were tested in 2021 when they were 5th graders.

We examine the 2-year proficiency changes by subject for all grade cohorts with ACT Aspire data: 3rd to 5th; 4th to 6th; 5th to 7th; 6th to 8th; 7th to 9th; and 8th to 10th. Systemic differences in proficiency due to the assessment being more or less difficult for a particular grade level or subject area are addressed by keeping the grade cohort and subject areas constant.

Consider, for example, the 2-year change in reading proficiency as students move from 3rd to 5th grade. Statewide data presented below show that from 2016 to 2018, students’ reading proficiency increased from 35% proficient when they were in 3rd grade to 38% proficient when they were in 5th grade. This 4 percentage point gain was also evidenced with the next cohort; 3rd graders in 2017 that were 5th graders in 2019. For the most recent cohort however, 3rd graders in 2019 who were 5th graders in 2021, the reading proficiency rate dropped by 4 points. Only by looking at the prior 2-year change can we identify how unusual and substantial the decline in reading proficiency is for young students learning through the pandemic really was.

Grade GroupPercent Proficient
2016 & 2018
Percent Proficient
2017 & 2019
Percent Proficient
2019 & 2021
3rd grade &
5th grade
35 -> 38= +437 -> 41= +438 -> 34= -4

We acknowledge that these aren’t perfect cohorts, as there were some 3rd graders that moved away and some 5th graders that moved in, but our research found that over 92% of the students were consistent over two years.

The following charts display the statewide 2-year proficiency change by subject and grade cohort. We are displaying just the change values, but proficiency data are available on our website.

Statewide 2-Year Change in Reading Proficiency by Grade Cohort

The statewide 2-year change in reading by grade cohort is presented above. Overall, we see that students in the four youngest grade cohorts increased their reading proficiency over the 2-year time periods prior to the pandemic. Students in the cohort starting in 7th grade were less likely to increase their reading proficiency, and student reading proficiency consistently decreased for the 8th to 10th grade cohort. For students learning during COVID, however, decreases in reading proficiency rates were substantial. Students tested as 6th graders in 2019 and as 8th graders in 2021 were an exception, as the grade cohort who demonstrated gains in proficiency consistent with prior 6th to 8th grade student cohorts. The greatest decline in reading proficiency was 22 percentage points in reading proficiency for 8th to 10th grade students.


Statewide 2-Year Change in Math Proficiency by Grade Cohort

In math, students in all grade cohorts saw decreased levels of 2-year proficiency prior to the pandemic, but the declines were much greater from 2019 to 2021. For the youngest grade cohort, students tested in 3rd grade in 2019 and 5th grade in 2021, there was a 28 point decline in math proficiency, while the oldest grade cohort math proficiency rate declined 26 points.


Statewide 2-Year Change in English Proficiency by Grade Cohort

Statewide English proficiency rates generally increased or remained stable in the younger grade level cohorts in the years prior to the pandemic. For students in higher grades, however, significant declines in English proficiency were typical. For students learning during the pandemic, all groups saw reduced proficiency in English except for students tested in 5th grade in 2019 and 7th grade in 2021, who increased proficiency by 3 points. The greatest decline in English proficiency was 23 percentage points in reading proficiency for the 7th to 9th grade cohort.


Statewide 2-Year Change in Science Proficiency by Grade Cohort

Similar to English proficiency, science proficiency rates generally increased or remained stable in the younger grade level cohorts prior to the pandemic. For students in higher grades, however, significant declines in science proficiency were typical. For students learning during the pandemic, all groups saw reduced proficiency in science. The greatest decline in reading proficiency was 14 percentage points in reading proficiency for 8th to 10th grade students.


Our analysis of 2-year changes in statewide proficiency rates indicate that from 2019 to 2021 there was more learning loss in lower grades compared to historical trends, but not all districts experienced such significant declines. Here at OEP, we wanted to highlight districts where kids are consistently increasing proficiency rates over 2-year periods. This is an opportunity for districts to recognize the teachers that consistently move more students than expected to grade level over two years. We hope that this analysis will help districts identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.

Using 2-year proficiency change scores, we identified the top 10% of districts by grade group and subject. We found 35 districts that were consistently in the top 10% for 2016-18, 2017-19 and 2019-21 and have listed them in our latest data post.

For example, Woodlawn School District has been a top 10% district in math proficiency change from 5th to 7th grade in all three time periods. Math proficiency increased from 5th to 7th grade by 21 points in 2016-18, 11 points in 2017-19, and 17 points from 2019 to 21. Compared to the statewide declines of -1, -4, and -12, that consistent improvement is impressive! Woodlawn is also a top 10% district in ELA proficiency for 3rd to 5th grade.

We like to highlight student growth scores more than proficiency rates, but in this case they go hand in hand. With 6th and 7th grade math growth scores in the top 10% of the state for 2017-18 and 2018-19, students in Woodlawn are growing to proficiency!

Want to see how proficiency rates change for students in your district? Check out our interactive data viz. Just select the district and grade range you want to see! You can hover over the bars to get a snapshot of subject proficiency, and learn if your district is consistently in the top 10% for the grade range.

https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/office.for.education.policy.university.of.arkansas/viz/PercentagePointChangeinProficiencyovertheyears/2YrPercentagePointChange

We encourage district leaders and other education stakeholders to reflect on these patterns of 2-year proficiency change for grade level cohorts, and consider opportunities for increasing student achievement consistently in all subjects and grades. If you would like to see this information at the school level, just reach out to us at oep@uark.edu and we’ll be happy to help!

Grade 11 ACT Scores

In The View from the OEP on September 29, 2021 at 11:06 am

This week we are digging into the grade 11 ACT scores from last spring. Statewide, scores dropped from 2019, which is similar to what we saw with the ACT Aspire scores for students in grades 3-10. 2020-21 was the fifth year that all Arkansas public school juniors were given the opportunity to take the ACT at their home school, during a regular school day, for free.

Arkansas is one of a small but growing number of states (currently 20) that offer all students free and accessible opportunities to sit for College Entrance Exams.  Although some colleges are moving away from requiring scores from such tests, the ACT is still a meaningful test for students and schools.  It is meaningful for students because it is still required to obtain scholarships like the Arkansas Academic Challenge (aka the lottery scholarship) as well as the Governor’s Scholarship which provide up to $14,000 and $40,000, respectively.  The ACT is also meaningful for schools because it is a part of how school quality is being measured in Arkansas.

In 2020, the average composite ACT score statewide declined 0.4 points (about 2%) from 2019 scores, after holding fairly constant since universal testing began in 2015-16. For reference, the national average ACT score is between 20 and 21. As presented below, the decline was evident across Black, Hispanic, and White students.

Average ACT Composite Score, by Race/Ethnicity, 2015-16 to 2020-21

There was variation among the subject tests in changes from 2019. In English, Black students held steady while White and Hispanic students declined slightly (-0.2 and -0.3 points, respectively). In reading, all student groups declined: Black -0.1, White -0.3, and Hispanic -0.5. In science, Black student gained 0.5 points, while other student groups held steady. In math, presented below, Hispanic students declined 0.4 points from the 2019 average, while Black students declined 0.1 and White students increased by 0.1.

Average ACT Mathematics Score, by Race/Ethnicity, 2018-19 and 2020-21

Another way that ACT scores are reported is the percentage of students that meet ACT Readiness Benchmarks. Students meeting these Benchmarks have a 50% chance of getting a “B” in a college class and a 75% change of getting a “C”. Only 12% of Arkansas 11th graders met the Readiness Benchmarks in all four content areas. The biggest decline in Readiness was in mathematics, where students were 5 percentage points less likely to meet the Benchmark than their peers 6 years ago.

Percentage of Arkansas Students Meeting ACT Readiness Benchmarks, 2015-16 to 2020-21

There are substantial differences in the likelihood of students meeting Readiness Benchmarks by demographic characteristics. For context, the table below compares Arkansas to the US in the percentage of student meeting the benchmarks in all four subject areas.

AR % US %
All Students1226
Black26
White1733
Hispanic614

Administering the ACT to all juniors is wonderful policy, but just testing them doesn’t help them learn. Here at OEP, we wonder what schools are doing to help students demonstrate their learning on the ACT? Although Arkansas’s high school graduation rates are among the best in the country, the data from the ACT makes us wonder if we are really preparing Arkansas students for success after high school.

We’ve posted the data on our website and included change in scores so you can dig into it yourself and see how the students in your school or community score on this important assessment.

Some Schools Show BIG Gains

In The View from the OEP on August 18, 2021 at 11:59 am

While anxiously awaiting the mid-October release of Arkansas’ growth scores (which we think are the best measure of how well a school is educating its students academically), here at OEP we are developing tools to help stakeholders interpret the recently released ACT Aspire scores.

Although we have reported that proficiency rates declined at every grade level in every subject in 2021, when we examine school level data, we find some bright spots to celebrate! Some schools made gains in proficiency during the challenging learning context of the last year and a half. For example, in 2021, 3rd graders in Deer K-12 were 27 percentage points (pp) more likely to be proficient in math than the school’s 3rd graders in 2019.

We present the top proficiency gaining schools for each grade and subject below:

MathReadingEnglish Science
3rd gradeDeer K-12
+27pp
David O. Dodd ES +22ppKingston ES
+29pp
Ouachita ES
+28pp
4th gradeMountainburg ES
+31pp
Yellville-Summit ES +26ppCollege Station ES +25ppWeiner ES
+28pp
5th gradeOuachita ES
+24pp
Garfield ES
+29pp
Viola ES & Cedarville ES
+25pp
Parkers Chapel ES
+31pp
6th gradeGosnell ES
+31pp
Carnall ES
+22pp
Bradley ES
+28pp
Carnall ES
+23pp
7th gradeHoratio HS & Augusta HS +21ppOden Schools
+28pp
Oden Schools
+30pp
Oden Schools
+27pp
8th gradeKingston HS
+44pp
Kingston HS
+24pp
St Paul HS
+30pp
Palestine- Wheatley SHS +29pp
9th gradeConcord HS
+31pp
Oark HS
+33pp
KIPP Blytheville HS +29ppConcord HS
+34pp
10th gradeBradley HS
+24pp
Bradley HS
+39pp
Augusta HS
+27pp
Rural Special HS
+24pp

Want to see how your school’s proficiency rates changed?

Last week we released a school-level data visualization that allows educators and parents to examine how performance has changed in a school or district since 2019.

Our newest data visualization allows educators and parents to examine how a specific grade-level’s performance has changed in a school or district since 2019. You can compare, for example, 4th grade math performance in 2019 with 4th grade math performance in 2021. It is important to understand that in this visualization we are comparing two different sets of students from two different years, and there may be important differences between those student groups that are related to achievement. Comparing within a grade level, however, is important because we know that historically there are differences in proficiency rates by grade and subject.

It is important to remember that two different sets of students from two different years are being compared in this visualization, and there may be important differences between those student groups that are related to achievement. Comparing within a grade level, however, is important because we know that historically there are differences in proficiency rates by grade and subject.

We hope that these resources are helpful as educators and parents are planning for the school year. In most classrooms, students are entering with lower skills in math, reading, English, and science than those who came before them. It is critical to reflect on our practices and measure our success.

Be sure to check back next week as we share information about how proficiency rates have changed since 2016 by district and school for grade-level cohorts!

Time to Hit the Ground Running

In The View from the OEP on August 11, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Last week. we discussed the large declines in test scores across the state. This week, we dig into the numbers more and try to put them into context.

First of all, we don’t have a good explanation for why the scores dropped so consistently throughout the state, and for every student population. While the challenges associated with the pandemic seem likely to be involved, it isn’t clear to us what the specific cause was. Regardless, we need to get focused on teaching like never before starting on DAY ONE of the school year.

The critical need for a renewed focus on teaching reading, math, English, and science is obvious in the table below that estimates how many months of content knowledge the average Arkansas student fell behind since 2019.

Grade Fall 2021MathReadingEnglishScience
Incoming 6th graders-8.1 months-5.0 months-3.0 months-7.7 months
Incoming 7th graders-9.5 months-3.4 months-5.6 months-7.3 months
Incoming 8th graders-4.1 months-5.7 months-1.5 months-5.7 months
Incoming 9th graders-4.4 months-4.0 months-9.9 months-4.2 months
Incoming 10th graders-14.6 months-6.7 months-23.9 months-4.4 months
Incoming 11th graders-21.2 months-9.0 months-12.0 months-7.3 months
Months Behind in Learning, on Average, for Incoming Students

For example, incoming 6th graders completed the ACT Aspire in spring of 2019, when they were in 3rd grade, and most recently in spring of 2021 when the vast majority of those 3rd grade students were finishing 5th grade. These students, who will be entering 6th grade this fall, are, on average, almost a full year behind in math (8.1 months), 5 months behind in reading, 3 months behind in English, and nearly 8 months behind in Science. We can’t estimate the learning deficits for incoming Kindergartenrs-5th graders, since the only completed the ACT Aspire last spring or not at all, but we do know that rising 4th and 5th graders they scored lower on across all content areas than previous cohorts.

We addressed more details about the test score declines during our interview on Ozarks at Large. We also created an interactive data visualization so educators and stakeholders can see for themselves how students in different schools and districts performed on the 2019 and 2021 ACT Aspire assessments compared to the percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch.

If you would like us to help you interpret your data- just send us an email: oep@uark.edu.

Leave us a comment about how you are going to ensure that your students are catching up during the school year. We know there is a lot going on in schools right now, but it is more important than ever that we focus on student learning.

Note: For these calculations we examined the average scaled score for students in grades 3-8 that completed the ACT Aspire in the Spring of 2019, and for students in 5th-10th grade that completed the ACT Aspire in Spring 2021. We compared the typical 2-year growth for students, based on national norms, to the actual growth of these students. We then transformed the difference into a ‘school month’ base, assuming 9 months of learning per school year.